Megan and I
By Julia Wysong

        Megan and I sat behind a row of prickly bushes, paralyzed with pounding chests, listening intently to the sounds of an urban winter night. An ambulance siren wailed in the distance, tires screeched around a corner taken too quickly, and a car alarm hiccuped and cried for attention but got none. While listening, my breathing slowly returned to normal, and I could no longer hear the car that aggressively pursued us. Suddenly, euphoria claimed my fear.

        The thick leaves surrounding us scratched against my face as I turned to Megan and slipped my cold hand under her oversized sweatshirt and covered her small tits. I leaned toward her and ran my lips up the length of her neck and was just about to slip her icy earlobe into my mouth when she pushed my chest away with unexpected force.

        Megan's face twisted up into an angry scowl. "What is wrong with you? Jesus, we gotta get out of here…what if he comes back?" She paused and began to chew her lower lip. "Did he see us?"

        "What do you think I brought you here for?"

        "Shut up! I want to go home. I can't believe I came." I frowned. Why did I even bring her? She had a disgusted look on her face. "Sometimes you just act so trashy," she spat out the last word as if she couldn't stand to have it linger on her tongue.

        Ignoring her, I crawled out from under our bristly shelter and pulled out my prize for the evening-a wallet full of cash. Pick pocketing isn't like mugging, or sticking a gun in someone's face and demanding money. It requires finesse, and you need a strategy. It's like a game. Every situation is different, too, so you need to be able to quickly size up people, the different possibilities, and the risks. The most important thing is to avoid suspicions. If anyone looks up at you, wondering why you're following them or standing so close, you've blown your chance. Sometimes crowded malls are good, because everyone's really distracted and rubbing against each other, anyway. Of course, there are always risks. You just have to know which ones you're better at dealing with.

        I opened the worn leather wallet and flipped through the stack of leafy green bills, about eighty bucks. Not bad for a night Megan tagged along. She actually helped by distracting the guy. She got him to stop abruptly, and I ran into him from behind and emptied his pocket. He was quick, though. He didn't buy my clumsy and apologetic act, and that was it. She shouldn't have waited until he was so close to his car.

        I started to walk away. "Okay, let's go," I called over my shoulder. "We're gonna have to hop a few fences and avoid the main streets. That poor bastard still may be driving around looking for us." Megan shuffled along behind me, easily keeping up but far enough behind to elude my sight. I listened to the sound of her feet dragging on crunchy asphalt.

* * * *

        The wash divides our town in two, wrapping around the base of the hills that support the newer and bigger houses. In most places, the water is sleek and shallow, allowing stray dogs to pass through at night. Down the middle, the clear, cold water moves the fastest. It scrambles over the sand and bubbles up white to slide around the occasional smooth rock, slippery with a blanket of algae. Closer to the edges, reeds and cattails grow in patches too thick to maneuver through. Here, the water lies still in scattered green pools of stagnant murk. If you climb down the cemented hill of rocks to the familiar musty smell of the wash, you can escape the noise of the city in exchange for the vibration of water running, spinning and falling. Getting closer, you can slip your bare feet into those still and silent pools and sink down through the soft, loose sand. Your feet disappear for a moment in a cloud of upset underwater dust, but after a little while it calms and settles back to the bottom and you can see every wavy fold of cold powdery sand that wraps your ankles affectionately.

        I've spent a lot of time along this wash. When I was younger, I appreciated the escape from the streets, cars, and houses, and felt I could turn to the solace of catching frogs or splashing through the water. Now, I use it as my sanctuary when I am avoiding the inevitability of my return home.

        I met Megan there about a year back. She was on the opposite side of the water, nestled way below the impressive spread of expensive houses. Her small shoulders slumped over her knees and clutched them with her arms, all wrapped in blue and black flannel. She seemed to be lost in herself with her head tilted slightly down, lifted only to take the occasional drag from her cigarette. She wore baggy men's clothes but her white, thin neck boldly stood out from her shirt. When I got real close, I noticed her delicate jaw and pretty lips.

        She lives in one of the rich houses up the hill. I never thought I would see the inside of any of those, and now I'm at her house almost every night. I look out her window at all the other huge houses with their long driveways, four-car garages, and elaborate landscaping. It's so beautiful, but whenever I have to go back home, I hate her for being spoiled and rich. Megan's never seen my home, at the bottom of her glorious hill, wedged between a gas station and train tracks. Sometimes I want to tell her what it's like to share a tiny apartment with another family. I want to tell her how it feels to have all of your windows closed in the middle of a heavy summer because the alley behind your house smells like piss. I want to tell her about my mom's filthy addiction and how it's a secret but everyone knows.

        In Megan's neighborhood, they all have swimming pools.

* * * *

        I laid on my back in Megan's bed, listening to her shallow breathing. The comfortable weight of her naked body rested on mine, heartbeat to heartbeat, skin on skin. My fingers lightly traced her spine down to the familiar small of her back. Shifting gently, she lifted her head, placing her sharp chin on my chest and looked at my face, in my eyes. I stared back for a few moments then turned my gaze to the open window we crawled in just an hour before.

        The streetlight shone right into her second story bedroom, forcing more light on us than I felt comfortable with. I could see everything--the piles of books on her floor next to the bed and the thick, shaggy rug underneath them. Her various posters and magazine pictures claimed and overpowered most of the walls, leaving me with a suffocated, claustrophobic feeling. How could she sleep in this room? Eventually, my eyes returned to hers.

        "Matt," she said, destroying the quiet. "Matt, listen to me."

        "I'm listening."

        She paused. "They put me on pills." Her face looked tense and strained, and her eyes were shiny. I looked away. Megan's chin was really digging in to me now. I rolled slowly over to my side and she slid off me and flopped on to the mattress. Lying on her back, her long, stringy hair was scattered over her shoulders and framed those hungry eyes. I bent over to put my mouth on hers before she turned, leaving my face in her hair. Frowning, I sat up and threw my legs over the edge of the bed to face the other way.

        "What kind of pills?" I asked. She said nothing, and I sighed out of exasperation. Megan sat up and gently pulled my shoulders until I gave in and flopped flat on my back again.

        "I went to a psychiatrist. My mom made me go…she thinks I've been acting weird or something, and…anyway, they gave me some pills to take, twice a day." Kneeling on the mattress, Megan leaned her shoulder and head against the wall. Her long neck pointed down to the dark, thumb-sized indent that I often examined while listening to the sound of her voice. She gripped a blanket in her armpits, tightly concealing her chest. As she turned to look out the window, I could hear magazine pictures crumple under her head.

        "Acting weird? Your mom is a bitch, don't listen to her."

        "Do you think they're wrong?" Megan's lips pressed together, creating pinpoint dimples on either side of her mouth. "I mean, it's like they're trying to change me. They aren't happy with who I am and they think they can feed me some pill to make me who they want," a long and barely audible breath of air escaped her mouth before she went on. "It doesn't feel right."

        "Then don't take them," I said as I studied her face. She still stared out the window, but her eyes glazed over. "Megan. Don't worry." I slowly but firmly pulled her blanket away from her and she whipped her face toward me in protest.

        "Matt, I don't-"

        "Don't worry," I whispered. I grabbed her legs from under the blanket and pulled her back down to me so I could feel her warm little body and her cold, cold hands on me. Her nipples pressed against my chest like two pebbles. I spread her soft thighs around me and my hands found her thin hips. She lifted her head and started to dig her chin into me again, so I combed my fingers through her thick hair and forced her cheek to my chest so the top of her head curved into my neck. 

        "You know I love you, right Megan?" 

* * * *

        I started stealing when I was ten. It began with the other kids at school, sometimes even the teachers. I would take little trinkets or toys, the kind of things I always wanted but my mom could never buy me. I got caught once, with some kid's watch. I was humiliated, and for a while I was known as "the Thief". From there, I was forced to graduate to money, which isn't as easily identified by its previous owner. I also started working pockets in stores and parking lots.

        The ability to read people and know who's an easy target is very important. I know that older people and really fat people are easy, but they've been an obvious target for so long that I try to stay away from them. I've found the easiest are people with kids, especially babies. They have their own distraction, and they're usually tired. I've learned to make sure the kids they have with them aren't too sharp or too old, or they'll be the ones who notice you. Once they let their mom know you're hanging around, you've just lost the job.

        One time I was casually following this lady, in her mid-twenties or so, who was dragging along four kids. Four! Most of them seemed too young to be able to speak coherently, and the ones who could were too busy asking her to buy them this and to buy them that. The best part is that she didn't have a purse or wallet; her money was stuffed-loose-in her back pocket, poking out a little bit were I could see it! Then, I heard one of them asking for ice cream, and she said, "I know, honey. It's on the list but we have to get it last or it'll melt." Once I heard that, I aimed my browsing toward the ice cream-slowly. As I went, I grabbed a few things, nothing breakable. When I got to the ice cream isle, I positioned myself so I could back up into her as she was walking toward one of the freezers. I did this, and dropped the things I was holding. I turned around and apologized, and she bent over to help me pick up my things. I bent over to pick them up too, but not until I grabbed the money from her pocket and put it in my own.

        This situation was actually pretty risky, but I knew she was the kind of person that would bend over and help someone like that. She was meek, a pushover, and was so distracted by her kids that she thought the whole thing was her fault. Also, I made sure I was between her and her kids, so they couldn't see me take her money. That one worked out perfectly, but they don't always. When just one thing goes wrong, I don't do it. For example, if her kids could see, or were in a position where they could just turn and see what I was doing, it would have blown the whole thing. The last thing I want is a bunch of screaming brats letting the whole store know what happened. 

        As well as reading people, you also have to know who has cash, and who doesn't. Credit cards and checks are worthless to me, and those are what you find in purses. I hardly ever take purses anyway because a teenage boy carrying some old ladies' purse is pretty suspicious. Wallets are the best, second only to loose cash. You can tell if they have a lot of cash on them because they'll occasionally reach down and tap their back pocket to feel their wallet, making sure it's still there. That's the kind of person I love to see in an area where there are big, dense crowds of people. Once they realize their wallet is gone, I'm far enough away and they usually end up blaming someone who's real close.

        I get the most satisfaction from ripping off the rich, who I can always spot by where they're shopping, what they're wearing, and what they want to buy. Sometimes they're really easy targets, too. Emptying their pockets when they aren't even aware of it devalues their pride and arrogance, and in the end, they're the fools. I don't even do it for the money anymore. Sure, the money is nice, but it's more of a test of wits. It's a power struggle, a game, and when I walk away with money, I've won.

* * * *

        "Matt! It took you long enough," Megan wrapped her arms around me. Sometimes she's really affectionate and other times she doesn't even seem to care that I 'm there. I hugged her back, resting my chin on the top of her head. I could smell her clean hair.

        "This cop car was following me, circling the area, so I couldn't take the shortcut." Taking the shortcut requires hopping a few fences, which is the best way to let a cop know you're up to no good. A lot of them know me because of my mom, so I'm used to this.

        "Fuckin' cops. I'm glad you're here." I looked over her head at the living room, huge, clean, and white. 

        "Matt, this house is too big," she said, with her face in my chest.

        "What are you talking about?"

        "Nothing. You're here. Let's go upstairs." She let go of my waist and turned around, clutching my right hand with both of hers stretched behind her back.

        We lay in her bed for a long time, and Megan just held me. Her eyes were closed and her cheek was warm on my chest, right below my collarbone. Her arm reached across me, digging her hand in the opposite armpit. She had the radio on, and at times I could hear her humming to the songs playing. Megan's behavior worried me, but was oddly calming, and I didn't want her to stop even though my leg was cramping up under her.

        The light in her bedroom dimmed and a dark orange tint covered everything before it faded to gray. My eyes flickered open, and I noticed that the streetlight was on outside. Then I heard her parents. Apparently Megan did, too. She jumped off me and whispered, "Stay here and be quiet," before she ran downstairs.
I've never seen Megan's parents. It seems strange since I've known her for a long time and I'm always at her house, but the house is huge and her parents work late. I wonder what they would do if they knew some dirty, poor thief slept in their house several times a week.

        Megan left her door half-open, so I sat up and tried to listen to their conversation. I know her parents as the voices I hear that travel up the stairs and into Megan's bedroom, and as the pictures I've skimmed over in one of the first story rooms. From this and from what Megan tells me, I've pretty much figured out that these are not people I want to meet. Not that they're really that mean, but they seem like they're uncomfortable with everything they have, especially Megan.

        "Megan," a deep voice said. He was surprised. I don't think he expected her to be home, let alone run down to greet them. It was kind of strange…usually she just closes and locks the door when they come home.

        "Your hair is a mess. When was the last time you washed it? Don't you care what people say about us?" This was her Mom. Her voice was strained, almost shrill. She probably wasn't even looking at Megan.

        "Mother, I-" Megan began.

        "Forget it, I don't care. Do what you want. I'm exhausted." I could hear cabinet doors open and close. "I need some wine." Glass landed on tile counter, followed by spilling and bubbling.

        Her father cleared his throat. Stiff, dress shoes paced on tiles. "So," he began, "So Megan…how is…school?"

        "Fine. School's just fine." I could imagine her chewing on her lips while looking at the ground as she said this. "Dad. This house, there's something wrong with this house…"

        "What? What's wrong? Not used to the new carpets? The smell should fade after-" 

        "No! I mean…no. Dad, listen. I can't do this anymore."

        "Do what? Megan, you aren't making sense. Just tell me what's wrong, dammit."

        "Space! Too much space! It's too much, don't you see? If you spent anytime here alone you would understand. Look!" Her bare feet were slapping the hard floor, and both parents were silent. Her mom was the first to break the stiff silence.

        "Megan, you need some rest. I think you need to lay down." More cabinet doors opened and closed. "Here, take this. These help me when I've had a long, hard day."

        I heard some mumbling, and then a few minutes went by with no talking. Footsteps on tile again, then doors opened and closed. Eventually, Megan's light but slow steps came back up the stairs. Her feet were dragging on the thick carpet, pulling her back into the bedroom. She closed and locked the door and I then realized how tense I had been. I sighed, and stretched. "Megan, you're insane. What do you think you were doing down there?"

        In the dim light, I could see her hand lift to her mouth, then reached out to me, palm up. "I was getting something for you, a sample from Mother's secret stash. You like this shit, don't you?"

        I looked at her, amazed. "Megan, you're unbelievable. Damn." The sticky pill reluctantly went down my throat, finding its way despite the gagging friction. I lay back down on the bed and looked up at her and waited. It didn't take long. Her black silhouette grew fuzzy, then disappeared and I could feel her up against me. She felt so good, small and warm on my side, under my arm. I tingled where she touched me until we were stuck together forever, a ton of weight pushing us deep into that dark mattress. Her big bed swallowed us both, and the tunnel of light shining in her window breathed and turned and did summersaults until it faded big white down to gray black heavy spinning fuzz.

* * * *

        I gripped the greasy black plastic of the payphone receiver against my ear, trying to block the angry turbulence of traffic. It was rush hour. I heard somewhere that the highest risk for car accidents is when dusk and rush hour happen at the same time. The glaring light of the sun at a sharp angle winked at me from the rows of windshields. Turning my back to the gaseous road, I hung up and dialed again. The unanswered ring made me nervous. Finally, someone picked up.

        "Hello," the woman's voice, which usually held enough strength to intimidate, was thin and weak.

        "Hi, is Megan there?" I put on my most polite tone of voice.

        "Megan isn't here," she said in a flat voice. She seemed to remember me from the few times I called. I suddenly realized that I was probably the only one who ever called asking for Megan. I remember her being fairly tolerant until I called up drunk asking to talk to "Sweet Princess Megan." I guess I didn't really want her to like me, anyway.

        "Where is she?" I demanded.

        "Her father took her away…for a while. She isn't well."

        "What do you mean, 'not well'? She's fine! Just fine! I talked to her a few days ago!" I could hear my voice begin to crack and squeak, and I struggled to keep control.

        "Well, she's gone now." I was used to a certain degree of abruptness from her, but her tone was more severe than usual.

        "When will she be back?" Little flecks of spit fly out of my mouth and stuck to the plastic sign on the telephone.

        "As far as you're concerned, she won't." The receiver pounded in my ear, and was followed by silence. I don't know how long I stood there.

        "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and dial again. If you need help, hang up and then dial your operator. If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and-" The receiver fell and hit the metal base of the telephone pole, and my feet began to walk. The cold crept up and began to wrap my neck, face and hands. Cement squares passed under my shoes, one by one, until they gelled together as an infinite progression of block after block after block. They lined up in my head until I stopped noticing them altogether.

        It was getting dark, really dark. "This house is too big! Don't you see?" Megan always had a strange way of saying exactly what was on her mind. It confused some, but made perfect sense to me…when I let her finish. "Matt, I-" What was she saying now? And who was she saying it to? Maybe they listened. Maybe they didn't care. "I was getting something for you…" She loved to give me little black pills. I wonder what she did when I was lying down, immobile, half way between sleep and awake? Maybe she liked me better then.

        Her Dad's face, of different ages, over different backdrops, always held the same expression in all those pictures in their house. Stiff and severe, yet trying very, very hard to feel. "So, Megan…how was…school?" Megan hadn't seen the inside of a school in weeks. In the drivers' seat of one of their expensive prize cars, I could see him with the same difficult smile. Aren't you glad you work sixty hours a week? Look at the luxury you get to drive your daughter to the nuthouse in!

        We had sex as often as I could, as often as she would accept. Her tiny little body under mine, I always imagined her parents watching. See what's going on? See? With all this money standing behind her, look where your daughter has turned. I came on her stomach, filling the indents between her ribs, and she closed her eyes and turned away. You bitch, do you really care about me? Need me? Maybe just for revenge against the parents. I'm the opposite of everything her parents ever wanted for her. Poor, dirty, and uncultured, I'm the perfect tool.

        Who would she choose in the end? When she turned away from me, her parents stepped forward and looked down at me. I lied there naked, helpless with post-orgasm exhaustion, and they stepped forward, towering over me. Their faces were shrouded in dark, and when I turned to Megan, she was walking away, getting smaller and dimmer. "Megan! Megan!" Then I felt the kicking.

        Burning sparks of pain exploded on my sides, and I could hear internal cracking and grinding. "Megan! You bitch! You fucking bitch!" More pain. I tried to roll over, wanting to guard from more kicks, only to position myself for a foot thrust into my soft stomach before fully executing the turn. My stomach convulsed and heaved until the hot tang of stomach bile filled my mouth and spilled over onto my chin. Some one was yelling at me.

        "You little shit! Who do you think you are? No one pulls this shit on me!"

        I tried to protect my face with my arms, but they wouldn't move. Squinting my eyes, I found myself blinded by a growing light. The sharp kicks stopped, but my screaming didn't. "You bitch! How could you leave me? You fucking bitch, I hate you! You left me alone!" 

        Once the light couldn't possibly get any brighter, I heard a car door slam. I opened my eyes and saw shiny black boots coming toward me, sticking out from creased khaki pants. My cheek, cold and wet with vomit, was grinding into the hard blacktop of a parking lot. The florescent sign of the movie theater was blurred behind the bright headlights of the looming cop car. "What's going on here?" the voice was deep and very stern.

        "This little punk thought he could take my wife's purse, officer, and-"

        "Where's the purse?" he barked.

        The other man talking, who I couldn't see from my position, must have gestured. Another pair of cop feet appeared and crunched over to where the purse must have been. "This it?" she asked.

        "That's the one."

        The first cop grabbed the back of my thin shirt with one hand, and my left arm with the other, and pulled me to an upright position. My vision was still a little blurry, and having shot up so quickly, my head began to spin and my sore limbs tingled. Suddenly, I was thrown on the warm, sticky hood of the cop car and held there, both of my wrists gripped behind my back. Realization of the situation hit me, and I began to struggle, only to feel my arms painfully twisted and my head pushed firmly back onto the shiny white metal.

        "Don't you even try it, boy. You're turning out just like your mama, aren't you?" Then, to the man with the wife and purse, "We've been keeping an eye on this one for a while, folks. I'm just going to need you to follow me to the station so we can file a report and put him where he belongs." With a couple loud clicks, sharp cold metal was locked around my wrists, digging into the skin. I was marched around to the side of the car, and firmly shoved into the back seat.

        The two cops climbed in, and even though I wanted to try to see their faces, my vision blurred and started dripping hot, salty drops on my face. I leaned back and closed my eyes. "Not so tough, are ya? You're getting a head start on your mama. She didn't get busted for stealing until she was 19, about the time she started in with the heavy drugs. That was before she started working corners. You were just a toddler then! I tell ya, Mary, I been doing this for too long. I'm dealing with a second generation of hoodlums…"

* * * *

        Before she met me, Megan had never crossed the wash. I was used to it, and knew each of the rocks well enough to know where to step and where not to, and how long I could keep my balance before loosing control and slipping. Trying to coax her over to my side, I hopped halfway across and stood on a rock big and flat enough to support me. "Come on, Megan. It isn't as hard as it looks. Just go quick, and you won't have enough time to fall."

        "Matt, why don't we just take the streets? I can't believe you do this every day."

        I held out my hand. "Just come this far. It's halfway, and I'll help you the rest." I reached out my hand. "Megan, you know you can do this."

        She furrowed her brow. "Okay. Here I come." She looked at the rocks nearest to the edge of the water and after a few moments of intense concentration, she chose one and began her wobbly trip across. She maneuvered slowly and shakily, but she chose the rocks well, and began to gain confidence.

        "See, Megan? It's not so bad. You're doing it." She didn't respond, but kept working her way closer. When she was about a foot out of my reach, I said, "There! You did it."

        She looked up with a huge grin spread on her face. At that moment, one of the slippery rocks that held her above the green water gave. She panicked, and lifted up that foot without looking for a safe place to put it. It found a rock that was a bit too slippery, and right before that foot began to slide she moved the other. From there both her feet stumbled and fell into the cold water. I flinched when the cold splash of wet touched my face. She stood there, in running water up to her knees, and looked back up at me with eyes burning in frustration.

        I laughed. "You'll get the hang of it. Really." To her surprise, I jumped in the water and grabbed her hand, then kissed her lightly on the check. She giggled and wrapped her arms around me.

        "I can't believe you did that!"

        I hugged her back and smiled. "Megan, I'm going to have to teach you how to catch frogs."

        We waded out of the wash onto my side, and from there we wandered into town, talking and laughing. It wasn't so cold that we were uncomfortable. In town, people stared at us. I guess we looked pretty funny, sloshing around with dripping pants and soggy shoes, acting as if we were the only two people in the world. Somehow, with Megan there, it was really easy to do.

The End